Tuesday, September 23, 2014

i often dream of trains

Robyn Hitchcock found an acoustic autumnal expression of intimate ache in the dodgey nocturnes of this crystal cathedral of pure poetry.  After the breakup of The Soft Boys, Hitchcock released two albums, 'Black Snake Dîamond Röle' and 'Groovy Decay'; but he became so dissatisfied with the music business, he dropped out:   "I wanted to see how much I really wanted to do this. The early ‘80s were a barren time for the likes of me on the surface, but little seeds were sprouting in the sheltered cracks below that sprouted into organisms like R.E.M., who, God bless them, made the place more habitable. Meanwhile, I wrote those songs out of compulsion, not because anybody wanted me to make a new album—even me. It’s been that way ever since, really. 'IODOT', as you put it—one letter short of IDIOT—is its own world, an echo of the world I lived in which is now gone. Even then, I was thinking about a gone world. Now I remember remembering. It’s those spirals again...I go from light to dark, it’s all part of the spiral. I don’t see myself as whimsical. There has to be some basis on which an artist makes selections, and mine are instinctive. They don’t always work, I admit—perhaps that’s when they seem whimsical. The main thing is to tell it like it seems, not as you would wish it to seem. But to tell it like it is might require a sharper eye than mine ...  I don't think about it while I'm doing it—I'm more aware of it afterward. You go over the dateline of rage and despair into humor. If you want to see it as a kind of spectrum, you might go from anxiety to fear to rage to humor to regret to acceptance… and then possibly even to some kind of happiness, and then 'round again. I'm good at maybe one or two of those particular hues on the spectrum. People often complain that I was covering up my emotions by making a joke of things, but humor is also what makes stuff bearable, and I think one of the things I hated about early-'70s singer-songwriters was how humorless they were. It was my kind of punk [attitude], you know, 'Jesus, I hate this self-pitying shit.' I really didn't like that kind of mellow from-the-canyon self-involved crap.   Obviously, I grew up to be just as self-involved as the rest of them, but I felt that a joke would at least justify that. Just because there are jokes in my stuff doesn't mean that I don't fundamentally take it seriously. But feelings travel, thank God. You don't stay in one mood forever, and you find yourself drifting across those datelines. I think some of the really great songs have many moods overlaid on them. I don't know how much I've achieved that, but I always think back to things like "Visions Of Johanna" by Minnesota's own Bob Dylan, and how it's a sort of fundamental sadness with a lot of humor applied as a glaze over that, and then over that, there's a lot of anger and questions being asked: "What do you mean? What's all that for? You've got a lot of nerve"—that usual Dylan stuff. The whole thing comes out as a kind of meditation, as a sort of acceptance. Those are my favorite songs, where different emotions are layered on top of each other. I suppose the trick is to get the feelings to flow correctly from each other when you make a record or write a song. But Jesus, if I thought about that, I'd never write anything!...Well, it's easiest to deal with that stuff as a kind of music-hall song to make those points. If you clear your throat and say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I am now about to make a serious point,' everyone can bow their heads and start burrowing their fingers in their ears and looking for earwax or texting each other or looking pious. 'Here he comes—here's a serious point. Boy!'

Recorded in London, 'I Often Dream of Trains' was essentially a one man show with Hitchcock doing all of the vocals and instruments save for contributions from James Fletcher on saxophone for one track ("Flavour of Night") and Chris Cox adding bass and backup vocals on two ("Ye Sleeping Knights of Jesus" and "My Favourite Buildings").  Engineers Pat Collier, Iain O'Higgins, and Pascal Gabriel also assisted in the proceedings.  Hitchcock remembers:   "I mean, that was pretty cheap. The one they used to like was Underwater Moonlight, by the Soft Boys, which I think cost about 600 pounds. Trains cost about 1,100, but it was four years later, so allow for inflation. What they both are is kind of nothing to do with their era. I mean, if you listen to them, you can hear how my voice is younger and everything, but I suppose there's no…I think there's a bit of chorusing on the guitars that might be a bit of a giveaway that it was from the mid ‘80s, but, on the whole. it's…you know, you think of the sounds that they had then, the sort of whole shoulder pads that were there in the music as well; big drums that a plane could take off and land from. Everything was shiny like special toothpaste back then, and I think Trains really isn't. Actually, having said that, R.E.M. weren't, either. I'm sure you can trace the ‘80s through Bill Berry's drum sound a bit, but certainly R.E.M. didn't sound anything like what was going on at the time. Yeah, I mean, I'm really glad people like it. It's good; it's great that people still want to hear those things. And hear them they do, because it's coming out for the third or fourth time, I think...When I recorded and wrote those songs for Trains, I was living a completely hermitic existence. I didn't know if I would ever make a record or tour again. I was just sort of kind of keeping myself alive doing odd jobs and recording just entirely for my own sake; I got a little four track machine. I suppose that was the good thing about Trains: it was motiveless. There was no idea of what a record company will think of this or anything." 




"Autumn Is Your Last Chance"


"Uncorrected Personality Traits"


"I Often Dream of Trains"



"Furry Green Atom Bowl"


"Sometimes I Wish I Was a Pretty Girl"


"Sounds Great When You're Dead"


'I Often Dream of Trains' 

full album:



Side one

"Nocturne (Prelude)"
"Sometimes I Wish I Was a Pretty Girl"
"Uncorrected Personality Traits"
"Sounds Great When You're Dead"
"Flavour of Night"
"Ye Sleeping Knights of Jesus"
Side two
"This Could Be the Day"
"Trams of Old London"
"Furry Green Atom Bowl"
"Heart Full of Leaves"
"Autumn Is Your Last Chance"
"I Often Dream of Trains"
"Nocturne (Demise)"

bonus tracks

"Mellow Together"
"Winter Love"
"The Bones In The Ground"
"My Favourite Buildings"
"I Used To Say I Love You"

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